Vast numbers of National Health Service front-line personnel are apparently oblivious to the £6.2bn national IT programme currently being rolled out, according to new research.
A survey for NHS Connecting for Health found that nurses were least aware of the programme, with half knowing absolutely nothing about it, including three out of 10 who had not even heard its name mentioned.
While staff in the North East had the highest awareness levels, communication problems seem particularly acute in the Southern cluster region. Some 86 per cent of nurses there knew "not very much" or nothing at all about the programme's work.
Although NHS Connecting for Health, since launching in 2002, appears to have had greater success in communicating to NHS managers, results from the poll, conducted in July by Mori, indicate that many clinical staff are far from fully engaged.
Overall, the survey of over 1,200 NHS personnel shows that just over half feel they are fairly informed. Similarly, only 48 per cent of GPs say they were informed, and awareness among hospital doctors also looks to be an issue, with just 38 per cent of those surveyed professing to know at least a fair amount about the programme.
Another significant finding is that only around half of the staff questioned were favourable towards to the programme, with one in five going in the opposite direction. According to the poll, doctors were found to be the most critical, due to reasons ranging from lack of engagement and consultation to implementation dates not being met.
Mori state that overall the survey results are broadly positive. "A key message is that all staff groups, including doctors, are much more favourable towards the future goals of the programme than they are towards the programme in its current shape", the research says.
It adds that the challenge of managing stakeholder expectations during roll out is "probably, in Mori's view, as important as making the technology itself work".
The report came out days after NHS Connecting for Health published a new annual business plan - its first since being established in April as an executive agency in its own right.
The report devotes a page to "Communications and engagement", stating: "The National Programme must engage and enthuse the public and stakeholders, such as staff, patients and carers, in the changes and benefits it will bring."
It outlines plans in four key areas of work – co-ordinating the programme's communications and information across the NHS, building support among NHS staff and other bodies, engaging the public and improving its relations with the media.
Richard Granger, the programme's Chief Executive, says in the foreword to the business plan: "We have taken the first steps on the journey to enable the transformation of the NHS."
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A Baseline Study on the National Programme for IT - Summary (PDF: 170KB) and Full Report (PDF: 749KB)
NHS Connecting for Health - Business Plan 2005/2006 (PDF: 1.25MB)